When Tartelin Brown accepts a job with the reclusive Marianne Stourbridge, she finds herself on a wild island with a mysterious history. Tartelin is tasked with hunting butterflies for Marianne’s research. But she quickly uncovers something far more intriguing than the curious creatures that inhabit the landscape. Because the island and Marianne share a remarkable history, and what happened all those years ago has left its scars, and some terrible secrets. As Tartelin pieces together Marianne’s connection to the island, she must confront her own reasons for being there. Can the two women finally face up to the painful memories that bind them so tightly to the past?
I found the last chapter of this new novel incredibly moving and I was smiling through tears as I closed the book.
Polly Crosby you ruined me for other books, for at least a couple of days!
Marianne’s memories of the island take us back to the years between WW1 and WW2, when she lived in the same family home with her mother and father. The Stourbridges were the guardians of the island, through her mother’s side of the family. However, it was Marianne’s father who had taken control of the island and it’s resources. Her family were rich, relying on herrings and pearls to keep their fortunes buoyant and providing work for the islanders. Under Mr Stourbridge’s control the businesses were losing money so he needed to diversify, and settled on silk-making as a way out of difficulty. Mulberry trees and silkworms arrived on the island and Marianne was researching to find out how to produce the best silk thread, but didn’t know that her father had hired a silk girl to come and start things. Nan came to live in their house and although the girls built a friendship, Marianne missed time with her father which was now being sacrificed for Nan and the silk worms. I had so many thoughts and questions in my head by this point. How had the family’s fortunes changed so drastically? How sad it must be for Marianne’s mother to watch her family businesses taken from her and mismanaged simply because she was a woman. Who was Nan and why was she dominating so much of Mr Stourbridge’s time? The author drip feeds these memories into the present day story, answering some questions but leaving others so I was always waiting for the next memory to know what happened next. There was a growing tension in the house that led me to believe an explosion was coming, something that would change Marianne”s life forever. Each section shed light on something in the present day, but I wanted the whole story of why Marianne was so alone in her old age, when did her family leave the island but most of all why was the island requisitioned?
I loved the sense of the uncanny that the author created; a feeling that life on the island was like real life, but not quite. There are strange, unfinished or half destroyed buildings, eroded cliffs and houses that have been literally swallowed up by the sea. Tartelin’s island has a feel of dilapidated grandeur in it’s buildings. They must have once been extravagant and beautiful, like the pavilion where Tartelin meets the peacock, but slowly being broken down and reclaimed by the sea. This is a strong theme throughout the novel, the idea that nature will always find a way, like a flower growing from a tiny crack in the pavement. I found Marianne a fascinating character with the manner of someone very intelligent and far too busy to be bothered with trifles. Her exterior as this grumpy old woman probably brushes most people off, but Tartelin is more persistent than most. Watching these two women slowly learning to trust and understand one another was a joy. Marianne’s story, as it is revealed, moved me beyond words. Even though there’s a fantastical, dream-like quality to her recollections the emotions ring true and are devastating to witness. However, I also felt an incredible sense of joy over the ending too. This novel is evocative and bittersweet, full of rich detail and interesting women. I have no hesitation in recommending all of Polly Crosby’s writing, but this is extraordinary and will stay with me forever.
Published by HQ on 6th Jan 2022
Meet The Author
Polly Crosby grew up on the Suffolk coast, and now lives with her husband and son in the heart of Norfolk. Her debut novel, The Illustrated Child (The Book of Hidden Wonders in the US and Australia) is out now. Polly’s second novel, The Unravelling will be published in January ‘22.
In 2018, Polly won Curtis Brown Creative’s Yesterday Scholarship, which enabled her to finish her novel. Later the same year, The Illustrated Child was awarded runner-up in the Bridport Prize’s Peggy Chapman Andrews Award for a First Novel. Polly received the Annabel Abbs Creative Writing Scholarship at the University of East Anglia, and is currently working on her third novel.